I’m not sure why there came to be two significant photo museums in Amsterdam, but it’s apparent that the city can easily sustain the pair. They are quite different physically, though both behind the classic Amsterdam canal-facing house fronts. While FOAM was founded in 2001, Huis Marseille beat it to the street by two years (1999). The first I wrote about in relation to its current Andre Kertesz show. I almost gave the second one a miss, feeling irrationally that once you’ve seen Kertesz, your week as a photo viewer is pretty much done.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Both the current exhibit and the space itself, Huis Marseille, bludgeoned this viewer – in a good way. Jamie Hawkesworth is a fashion-cum-documentary-cum-portrait-cum-travel-cum-landscape photographer who seems to be taking ALL those genres by storm. Flunking out of a forensic science program due to flagging interest, he persuaded his university, Central Lancashire in Preston, to admit him to the second year of a photography degree. This was way back in 2007 (I’m being sarcastic – can you hear it?). He graduated in 2009 and started getting magazine assignments.
His stuff is REALLY interesting. He travels all over the world, shooting mainly film, but also some video. He works in the darkroom. The series that forms his first book, Preston Bus Station, is well represented in this exhibit. I have to admit that I hadn’t expected to love it – maybe because I’m jealous, because Hawkesworth has made a go of street photography with a big camera and a knack for persuading subjects to pose. But I did love it. Most of the people pictured in this god-awful North England bus station are teenagers. Not all, but most. They look challenging, sullen, flirtatious, beautiful, pimply – all the things that teenagers have going. The photos are simply lovely, and the color makes sense, though Hawkesworth could have chosen B/W as a nod to documentary and street traditions. the
The exhibit is called Landscape with Tree, and I’m not entirely sure why, since most of the photos in the vast exhibit are not landscape photos. Since Hawkesworth is not particularly pretentious about his work, there is some basic reason I haven’t yet plumbed. The tree photo is pretty great, though.
Hawkesworth does fashion photography, in particular for JW Anderson, though also for other designers. There is a healthy representation of those photos here – enough to persuade us that he really is taking his own approach to fashion. There’s a very good interview by Jason Evans in the British Journal of Photography that does a way better job than I can at explaining where Hawkesworth stands in the fashion photography world today, and what makes his stuff unique. Still, some of the stuff I found online looks like the same old sullen-model-too-cool-for-school stuff that Abercrombie and Fitch, among others, has peddled to us far too long.
Lest I end on that note, though, I really do like Hawkesworth’s stuff, and I love his versatility. He planned the exhibit so that each of the (I believe) fourteen chambers of Huis Marseille would meld with the photos therein. There is a pile, beautifully randomly stacked, of look books he did of a quasi-fashion, quasi-promotion shoot he did at an Indian boys’ school. A sign invites viewers to take one, so I did. It’s weird. This could be because I’m from New England, and it seems strange to photograph boys’ disembodied midsections, even if they are half-clothed and meant to show off some cool belt and pants combo. Then you walk OUT the door to the rear garden, which is enchanting, and the rear building, whose purpose related to the museum is not clear to the casual visitor. There is one large photo inside, so presumably the space is an extension — at least for this exhibit — of the main buildings’ spaces. It may also be that I did not explore boldly enough. I am always fearful of somebody telling me that, no, THAT door is off limits.
That is a decent entree to talking about the Huis Marseille itself. The museum/gallery (really more the latter than the former) embraces two old mansions and a lovely garden with garden house in back. The spaces have been cleared and renovated, but they retain their original appointments: windows, staircases, fireplaces. This is what differentiates Huis Marseille from FOAM, which has by and large pulled out all the original fixtures and elements of the house in order to reshape it as a modern exhibit space, albeit with the usual multi-floor skinny-floor layout.
When I get to a place without punitively slow internet access, I’ll post a few of the mansion views that I grabbed today as I moved through the space. I didn’t grab any of the stairways except literally with my hands, since Dutch staircases are a challenge for Americans spoiled by different building codes.